Creamy Parsnip Soup and Homemade Croutons

Serves 6

Parsnips are one of those intimidating root vegetables.  They’re not exactly in the same category as celery root or kohlrabi, for example, but they do carry a hint of intimidation in them. They look like carrots, in fact, they’re cousins. Parsnips are much sweeter, however and even nutty in flavor. And they often sit in heaps at farmers’ markets, waiting to be picked up, cooked up, eaten!

In lieu of getting our CSA delivered, the past several weeks, my husband, Claire and I have made the 1 hour trip to Blooming Hill Farm. They have a heavenly farm stand.  Let me reiterate: HEAVENLY!  It’s a beautiful farm with beautiful and abundant produce.  They also have eggs, non-homogenized milk, cheese, freshly baked breads, the list goes on.  On top of that, they have a little cafe area where a chef prepares simple fare (frittatas, pizza) with the bounty from the farm.  It was on one of these trips that I picked up everything that went into this soup.  I can’t deny that I get a sense of utter joy knowing that my entire dinner (or breakfast or lunch) came from an organic farm 1 hour away from where I live.  We’re very lucky.

So, while parsnips are busy intimidating some cooks, they’re also intimidating to inflammation and cancer thanks to the anti-oxidants they have.  They are good sources of Vitamin C (another more famous anti-oxidant and water soluble vitamin), rich sources of the B-complex vitamins, especially folic acid (pregnant mamas, take note!) as well as a number of minerals.  According to Rebecca Katz, “ounce for ounce, boiled parsnips have about 31% as much calcium as milk”.¹ (Great for vegans and vegetarians and any lactose-intolerant peeps to know.  There are MANY non-animal sources of calcium!)  Lastly, parsnips are another wonderful source of dietary fiber which is necessary for a healthy gut and colon.

A quick note before we get to the recipe.  Parsnips are quite bold in flavor and can easily take over any dish.  I used fingerling potatoes and the herbs as a way to balance the parsnips out.  I think you’ll love it!

You’ll need:

2-3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 red onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 1/2 lbs. parsnips, roughly chopped (I had 3 large ones that came to about that.)

3-4 medium fingerling potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (about 1 C)

a Bouquet Garni of 3 sprigs parsley, 3-4 sage leaves and 1 bay leaf, tied between 2, 3″ pcs of celery

8 C water or vegetable stock (I used water and a low-sodium vegetarian bouillon this time.)

1/4 C rolled oats

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 T lemon zest, for garnish (optional)

For the croutons:

6 small slices of your favorite bread, large dice

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Dried herb of choice (basil or oregano or thyme are delish:)

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

1.  In a medium or large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onions and cook for 5 minutes before adding celery and carrots.  Season with sea salt.

2. When mire poix (remember that’s the onion, celery and carrots in a 50/25/25 ratio) is tender, add parsnips and potatoes and season again with a little salt.  Deglaze with a 1/4 C of the water or stock and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

3.  When all those veg are sufficiently mixed together, add the water/stock and the bouquet garni.  Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce to medium-low, add rolled oats and partially cover.

4.  Cook for about 30 minutes or until the parsnips and potatoes are very tender.  Remove the bouquet garni and take saucepan off the heat to settle for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, set up your blender and have a kitchen towel handy.

(While the soup is cooking, you can get the croutons going.  Place the croutons on a sheet pan, drizzle olive oil evenly on bread, then add herbs and salt.  Toss to coat evenly.  Place sheet pan in the oven at 325° for 10-15 minutes, checking often to make sure croutons don’t burn.  Toss when necessary.  Alternatively, you could toast them stovetop but placing the croutons in a sauté pan and cooking over low-medium heat for about 10 minutes.)

5.  One ladleful at a time, carefully place hot soup in an even amount of veg and liquid into the blender.  Blend on high until ultra creamy.  Repeat this process until the soup is done.  Be sure to use the hand towel to hold the lid of the blender because the steam will lift the lid.

6.  Return the soup to the saucepan and place over low heat.  Add the lemon juice and let warm for a couple of minutes.  Do a last minute check on flavor and add salt and/or pepper as needed.

7.  Ladle soup into individual bowls and top with fresh, warm, crunchy croutons!

8.  Enjoy!

¹ Rebecca Katz, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

Amaranth and Apple Pudding

Makes 1.5 C

These cool mornings have quickly brought with them the craving for creamy oatmeal for breakfast.  While preparing some for my husband and I, I also had some amaranth cooking for Claire.  (Quinoa was her first ‘grain’ and this would be her second.)  Experimenting in the kitchen is always fun.  Experimenting with recipes for Claire doubles that fun!

Amaranth is still somewhat of an obscure grain though it enjoys a very rich history.  While quinoa was the sacred, power food of the Incas, amaranth was the sacred, power food of the Aztecs.  (Not surprising, quinoa and amaranth are distant cousins.)  When the Spaniards arrived, they forbade the cultivation of amaranth, mostly because it was often used in sacred, religious ceremonies.  This was inconvenient for the spread of Christianity.  (Food permeates every aspect of life!)  Still, amaranth was resilient and its spread around the globe proved inevitable as its name indicates.  Amaranth comes from the Greek amarantos, “one that does not wither,” or “the never-fading.”¹  (You’ll think about this “never-fading” again, when you’re cleaning up after your baby dines on this goody!)

Rebecca Wood writes that, “the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has encouraged the use of amaranth since 1967 because wherever amaranth is consumed there is little or no malnutrition”.²  That’s a bold statement for the health properties of this poppy seed-like “grain”.  Like quinoa, it is a protein power-house, at about 14%.  It also contains more protein and calcium than milk.  Go ahead and read that sentence again.  This is one reason why amaranth is such a perfect food for pregnant and nursing moms and for children.  It’s also what makes it ideal for babies since babies are well equipped to digest proteins.  Amaranth contains lunasin, a peptide thought to have cancer-preventing benefits and preventing inflammation that accompanies chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.¹  It’s also naturally gluten-free, which is really just a bonus.

Amaranth can be added to thicken soups, it can be popped and spiced up as a snack or it can be added to baked goods.  It’s tiny, it’s versatile, it’s nutritious and yes, it’s delicious in all its wild nuttiness!  Your body will do cartwheels in gratitude for adding this to your diet.

Needless to say, we traded in our steel-cut oats and that morning, we all ate this amaranth and apple pudding for breakfast.

You’ll need:

1/2 C amaranth, soaked in 1 C water and 1 T lemon juice

1/2 C coconut milk

1/4 t sea salt

1 t vanilla extract

3 T raisins

1 T unrefined, extra virgin coconut oil

1/4 C stewed apple, diced (bananas work lovely wonders here, too)

sprinkle of ground cinnamon

sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg

To make:

1. Place amaranth with its soaking water, coconut milk and salt in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil then lower heat to simmer.

2. Add vanilla extract and raisins and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often, until the liquid has gotten thick and creamy.

3. Remove from heat and stir in coconut oil.

4. Serve by scooping some of the pudding into a bowl and topping with apples, cinnamon and nutmeg.

5. Enjoy!  (And if you’re feeding this to a little one, don’t be put off by the mess.  Just be prepared to find amaranth EVERYWHERE – remember it’s “never-fading” – and know that it’s well worth it!)

¹http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/amaranth-may-grain-of-the-month-0

² Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia